Photo credit: Supreme Court Pediment by Flickr.com user Kevin Harber

Doom-mongering

Well, I'm a "doom-monger" - that's the opinion of Mary Eberstadt, conservative Catholic pundit based at Stanford's neighbor, a frequently-thoughtless tank, the Hoover Institution. The news came to me this week from the editors of First Things, a journal dedicated to advancing "a religiously-informed public philosophy for the ordering of society" - translation, turning the United States into a theocracy. The Eberstadt article in which my doom-mongering is featured is "The vindication of Humanae Vitae" - a defense of Pope Paul VI's dictum banning the use of artificial contraception and containing other messages from above about sexual morality. I won't deal much with the substance of the article, since many millions of Catholics have already voted with their bodies on that, as evidenced by the very low birthrates in Catholic nations such as Italy, Spain, France, and Poland. In essence, Eberstadt does a weak, hypothetical one-sided benefit-cost analysis on Humanae Vitae with no consideration of its potential (if obeyed) environmental costs or its social costs in, for example, forcing people to have unwanted children and keeping women barefoot and pregnant. Rather, I'll just point out that the comment from The Population Bomb that Eberstadt specifically refers to, "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now," was essentially correct. Somewhere between 100 million and 200 million people, mostly children, died of hunger or hunger-related disease in those two decades, despite intensive programs to increase food production and improve distribution that the book helped to stimulate. And, as anyone who reads newspapers knows, people are still dying from undernutrition and malnutrition. Eberstadt apparently does not consider the impact of the more than 3 billion people added to the planet since The Population Bomb was published on such things as the promotion of unsustainable agricultural practices, the looting of the seas of fishes, the rising concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the global availability of fresh water, the loss of biodiversity (the plants, animals and microorganisms that are working parts of our life-support systems), the distribution of toxic substances in the environment, or the increased chances of new catastrophic epidemics. Does she imagine that the U.S. would have invaded Iraq to get control of its oil reserves if our population were the 140 million people of the end of World War II, rather than over 300 million as it is today? So I am a "doom-monger," and the details of why can be found (with references) in Anne's and my new book, The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment.  The whole point of showing where humanity's trajectory leads is to encourage all of us to change course.  That's why the scientific community as a whole also has been doom-mongering, as you can see by going  to www.dominantanimal.org and clicking on "Further Information." I know, I promised more on brains in this blog - consider this comment to be on a fine brain that fails to take into account any environmental science. ———- Paul R. Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. He is the author of hundreds of scientific papers, and numerous books including The Population Bomb and Betrayal of Science and Reason (Island Press, 1997). His latest book is The Dominant Animal: Human Evolution and the Environment, which he co-authored with his wife Anne.